"You need to turn your cameras on", I said. In response, I got nothing but silence.
On my teaching timetable I have one class on a Wednesday afternoon which is still online. Since UK came out of lockdown in April, all students are not expected to attend their classes in person at their place of education. However, this call on Wednesday afternoons is my biggest class because there are lots of leaners attending from different vocational areas and in order to ensure everyone's safety, we decided to keep this class online. This ensures that lots of learners from different groups are not mixing together, which lowers the overall risk for everyone.
Teaching a class online and attending a class online both have their challenges. One of the main challenges is to ensure that the learners are actually doing the work and are present on the call. This requires the learners to turn their camera on, which is standard college policy. The policy clearly states that "all online lessons need to be treated as if they were happening in person. Therefore, everyone attending the online sessions must have their cameras on."
I was meeting my Wednesday afternoon class for the first time and, as part of the initial session, I shared this policy with them. No response. Only crickets. Just silence.
There are certainly technical issues that might not allow some of the learners to have their cameras on. However, there one of the most common reason learners don't have their cameras on is social anxiety.
"If you were in the class right now, you would be able to see each other and everyone else would be able to see you. This is no different. We all are going to be in this class for the rest of the year so this will help us get to know each other. You can have a virtual background on to make sure that there are no distractions in the background. Also, it helps me see if you are struggling and I can call you privately and help you. It's also important for attendance. I have no way of knowing that you are actually there on the call because I can see right now are lots of boxes on my screen with just initials. This has happened before where people have joined the class just that they don't get marked absent and then walked away. Lastly, I always have my camera on and so I expect the same from all of you", I explained. Still no response. Only crickets. Just silence.
Ok, time to address it head on. "I know that some people have social anxiety and I understand that it is not easy for people to be on camera. However, this is your chance to overcome your social anxiety in a safe environment. You are all studying at the same college and you all are also in the same maths class. We all are going to be here every week for the rest of the year. Here you have the chance to work on overcoming your fear of being in front of other people so you can enter the world of work with confidence.
Besides, how is your social anxiety serving you? How is it useful to you? You will not get very far in life if you always let your social anxiety stop you form doing what is important. Life requires us to step up and bring the best version of ourselves to everything that we do. If you let your fears always get in the way, then the world will always be a hostile place and you will never achieve everything that you are capable of."
Can you relate?
Is you social anxiety crippling you?
Are your fears making the world appear hostile?
According to a LinkedIn survey conducted by my friend Racheal Randolph, a Communication Coach from USA, 29% of the people reported "Social Anxiety" as their biggest problem in building and maintaining business and professional relationships. Certainly, social anxiety is one of the biggest problems that many people face in networking, especially whilst meeting new people.
Personally, I believe that having social anxiety is completely understandable, however, not trying to overcome it and letting it stop you from progressing and living your life isn't. If we suffer from social anxiety, then it is our moral and ethical responsibility to do whatever is required to overcome it. Practice courage, which is defined as taking action despite having fear, not in the absence of fear. Show up and repeatedly expose ourselves to new situations and people to develop resilience.
Learn how to communicate, interact with others and build relationships. Educate ourselves on how to succeed with others and have successful positive interactions. Understand what makes people tick. Join Toastmasters, take a course on building confidence, grab every opportunity to present in front of others and set ourselves the target of talking to one new person everyday. Upgrade our mindset and our skillset because confidence comes from competence. Under pressure, we will always fall to the highest level of our preparation. Be curious and always, always, always come from a place of Care, Value and Service.
I believe that it is our ethical and moral obligation to show up as the best version of ourselves to serve others and make this world a better place. Otherwise, we are doing a disservice. Not only are we letting ourselves down, but we are letting everyone else down too. How can we help, support and serve others if we are always too busy hiding from our own fears and victimising ourselves? Who benefits when we let our social anxiety stop us from doing what is important?
I know it's not easy to overcome social anxiety. Of course it would be hard, and at times it might seem like there is no progress and that it's never going to end, but being consistently persistent over a long enough period of time will always lead you to victory. All citadels fall under the crushing pressure of a relentless and endless assault.
Commit to the assault.